Hold on Your Bias: Don’t Blame the Immigrants

Publisher:   GRFDT
Reviewer:   Vijay Soni

International Migration and International Security: Why Prejudice Is a Global Security Threat ,Valeria Bello, 2017, Routledge, New York, $142.50 |ISBN: 978-1-138-68946-6

One of India's ancient scriptures, Maha Upanishad, sums up the very existence of human beings of various races, colours, ethnicity, nationality and religions by making them one composite family of the planet earth. It calls the inhabitants of the earth as one family Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. The Sanskrit shloka (couplet) says that people who consider this as mine, and that as others are narrow-minded people, whereas a broad-minded person considers all inhabitants of the earth as one family. I am tempted to quote this verse because while reading Valeria Bello's wonderful and thought provoking research, I was reminded of various common key words emanating from both the verse and the book under review. Consider for example, words like - Ours, Outsider, Conservative (prejudice), Liberals and the fear of the "Outsider" (immigrants), which directly or indirectly find expression in the ancient text too. The underpinning thought of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, as a quest for universality, is so appealing that it is engraved at the entrance of Indian Parliament building.

Bello's research could be seen in a similar light. The threat to our security is not from the terror per se, but from the prejudices held by people, the victims and the perpetrators alike. It is the prejudice that is the genesis of fear, anxiety and restlessness that has set in our global society. Prejudice is a negative emotion which breeds destructive thought process. As the author explains prejudice "concerns the sphere of those biased feelings and mental dispositions towards others that precede the real experience of facts. It is pre-judgment; a conclusion to which persons arrive before experiencing facts." The very notion of prejudice is anathema to international peace and could well be equated with international insecurity.

To cover a larger canvas, as the subject is multi-layered and complex, the author has divided the book into three parts. The first part deals with the impact of international mobility, free-flow of capital, human and ideological transgression and the process of radicalization and terror attacks in various parts of the world. The second part is more explanatory and expounds some of the recent crisis including the Mediterranean crisis and the process of inclusion and exclusion and extremism as a result of trans-national migration and human and ideological dispersal. The final part, while explaining the malaise of the post-modern society delves into alternative remedies in the form of multicultural and intercultural dialogue and de-constructing the social fabric of terrorism.

Bello in her research, with great subtlety, establishes the correlation between the feeling of prejudice and the resultant insecurity and the quest for certainty and capitalistic prosperity. She resorts to chronological narration and divides the timeframe between the end of the Cold War and the balkanization process, to the period of globalization to the recent terror attacks including the Brexit outcome and the rise of far-right political parties in the global order.

These historic processes have been observed, studied and analyzed from the European perspective, for example, when she traces the rise of restlessness in the anxiety-ridden Europe. She asserts, "At least for older generations of Europeans - and particularly for those who live at the borders with Balkan countries, and mainly Italian, Austrians and German - a region that reminds us of a painful historical memory - the start of the First World War. Those who lived in those years felt that even the Second World War was only a further consequence of the First, so much that some historians and analysts talk of 50 years of Civil War in Europe." The author dexterously brings home the existential angst of the continent, which saw two World Wars that changed the global geo-political order.

The world, in the meantime, seems to have moved in altogether a different direction at the end of cold war, which in fact was the consequence of the Second World War itself. The second phase, heralded by the process of globalization, was an era of advanced capitalism. It was during this time that capital flow became much more easily but at the same time, it created massive barriers for human transnational movement.

A pertinent question that needs to be asked at this juncture is - was it based on prejudicial notion or was it because of economic reasons as the transnational empires of colonial powers were shrinking. A historical fact that needs to be analyzed is the human capital flow to Europe during the pre and post-colonial period. It should be noted that most of the human migration in the past was the result of colonial relationships that European countries shared with the countries they colonized. There was a mass human movement from England, Spain, France, and Portugal to various continents and when it ended in the second half of 20th century, a reverse migration from these colonies began to these European countries. A large part of these migrations were motivated to meet the latter's manpower shortage to their expanding economy. It was during this phase of intercontinental interaction that perception; notions, predilections and prejudices were formed about people, nationalities, religions and the so-called human 'races'. Although Bello excludes this phase of historical development in her enumeration on 'prejudices', a drill down on it could have done more justice to the contested subject that she has dealt with.

Bello has given a more humane face to human migration. Her observation that securitization of borders have not diminished illegal migration across the borders needs to be seen from this perspective, along with the fact that they are the victims of a system which is beyond their control. Quantitatively, a large part of European societies hold positive attitude towards immigrants but unfortunately this perception is being altered because of extraneous pressure put on the limited resources that these countries have. Immigration alters demographic balance of a region by claiming a share in the existing healthcare and education system, to which the natives are sensitively possessive. .

Another pertinent observation that Bello leaves us with is the concept of regions and empires in the global order and our faulty assumption of labeling them as mere markets. History has reasserted itself from time-to-time that a large part of geo-regional powers work on their own inherent historical logic instead of superimposed concept of market places. The case of Afghanistan, Syria and the Middle East are examples which have, time and again, brought this contradiction to the fore by claiming themselves as regions inhabited by ethnicity rather than markets of demand and supply. Probably, a lot of global conflict could be avoided if the geo-population is seen in the light of their historical development instead of economic utility value.

A prominent feature of the contemporary polity that Bello deals with is the rise of far-right populist ideology, which draws political mileage by framing migrants as "outsiders". It is not something new in the conceptual framework as the rise of extremist views is always based on prejudiced views. Whether it is the rise of the Islamic State or the rise of nationalism in legitimate democracies, both harbor an ill-feeling towards a group of people who are alien to their social construct and are often framed as threat to their existence. It has also been a failure of conservative political parties who have not been able to counter and provide an alternative narration to meet the challenges of populist culture.

Realistically, it is hard to imagine a world without a populist culture as the very ideology governing democracies is based on  numerical strength of a population favoring or disfavoring a particular public policy. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that a more liberal, porous trans-border movement could be a liberating force from the tyranny of insecurity, which is staring at the face of European insecurity. No doubt, the life of an undocumented migrant is abysmally hard and difficult and there are forces always ready to exploit their vulnerability as Bello says, "Making access to Europe harder will only increase the market of smugglers and human traffickers. Not only this, but it will increase the number of migrants residing undocumented in Europe. This will make them particularly vulnerable in the labour market and employers will take advantage of this, lowering workers' condition, thus creating the phenomenon know as 'social dumping.'"

Seen in the milieu of migration and migrants, 'social dumping' finds an equal parallel in yet another phenomenon explained by Bello called flexibilizaion, which can alternatively be seen as a by-product of large-scale commercialization and globalization of labour market as opposed to European model of Welfare State System. Under this system, a flexible worker is as vulnerable as an undocumented migrant. Explaining the phenomenon, Bello says, as I am tempted to quote it in full, excluding the references

"Since the 1990s, financial hardships and other market vulnerabilities have been tacked in Europe with the so-called politics of "flexibilization", whose main effects have been to change the European Social Model and Welfare State System. This was possible through the introduction of flexible contracts and the wider possibility of hiring freelancers for some services in positions that are supposedly independent from employer but that are indeed not."

Now, what is obvious both in the case of an undocumented migrant and a flexible worker is - a deliberate lack of policy guidelines. It is not as if these facts are not known to nation governments, but their studied silence in coming out with a willed decision, either because of political exigencies or economic compulsions or both, is appalling. While imagined perception and prejudices play a role in the realm of an individual world-view, it is the political and economic realm, which decides the lives of an immigrant in the receiving country. Prejudice is one of the reasons for global security threat but not the only one. In fact, these prejudices if not nibbled in the bud lead to collective consciousness and give birth to xenophobia and fascist tendencies, which pose a greater threat to the global order.


For any further communication, pl. contact Mr. Vijay Soni: [email protected]


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